Valet bicycle parking, biodiesel generators along the parade route, two official Green Inaugural Balls, and hundreds of feet of recycled carpet were some key elements that made the 2009 Inauguration a greener-than-usual affair.
Organizers touted it as the most environmentally friendly inauguration to date, but they had their detractors. After all, an unprecedented 2 million visitors or more were expected to drive and fly into Washington, DC for the event.
But with the power of viral marketing and new media, Litter Free Inauguration got attendees on the Mall to pay attention to their trash and helped realize the green aspirations of the new administration.
“We told Barack we were ready for change, and we wanted to prove it on day one, ” said Braden Kay, one of the organizers of Litter Free Inauguration and a Ph.D. student in sustainability at Arizona State University.
Kay said that he and his co-organizers were inspired by Barack Obama’s message of civic engagement and social responsibility. After witnessing the mounds of trash left after Obama’s acceptance speech in Chicago, and at Democratic and Republican rallies throughout the campaign season, they started brainstorming ways to change the tide at the inauguration.
Their message would be simple, they decided. Bring an empty bag. Pick up your trash.
“We wanted to reach out to all sorts of communities in non-traditional ways,” Kay said. So their method for getting people involved was anything but simplistic.
With barely a week to go before the big day, Litter Free Inauguration launched a blog, started a Facebook page and posted a promotional video on YouTube. Armed with these tools, they reached out to youth media, DC-area hip hop stations, environmental news websites and major TV outlets.
And they got media hits, including coverage by CNN, CBS and on Tree Hugger’s Five Ways Obama’s Inauguration Festivities Will Be Green.
But did their strategy impact the waste left over after the inauguration festivities?
“We haven’t made a full change in tacking litter at public events,” Kay said. “Even if a few thousand people cleaned up after themselves, it will take time to see change.”
Meanwhile, even if trash cans and recycling bins are still overflowing, inauguration organizers are committed to picking up after parade horses. A bonus for farmers in Virginia and Maryland who will be receiving fertilizer – free of charge – over the next few days.